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When to turn the other cheek...

Some people think this Biblical instruction, to turn the other cheek, means passive resistance to the point that if someone comes up to you and whacks you a good one, you should turn around so they can attack the other side of you, too. Passive resistance can certainly be an extremely functional tool in some circumstances, as proven by Ghandi and Rosa Parks, when it is the means to an objective.  Doing good to those that offend us is another more aggressive way of it; passive payback! 

But here's another take on turning the other cheek.  A woman wrote in to the Miami Herald's column, "Moral Quest", asking whether she has an obligation to try to mend fences with people who are openly snubbing her because she did not quit an organization, while they had done so.

The question was addressed by Rabbi David H. Auerbach of Pinecrest's Bet Shira Congregation.  He recalled the 1st Century sage, Shammai, who advised that "one should greet every person cheerfully".  

Rabbi Auerbach asks:  "When does this teaching apply?  If only to our friends and those who agree with us, we would do so anyway."

The very fact that this instruction was given by the sage was because there's often people who are ignored or greeted coldly, such as strangers, those of different social classes, economic means, language or cultures, those who have offended you (or who you have offended).  The homeless, drunks, addicts, gang members, the shabby, those blatantly out of style, streetwalkers, the elderly confused, the mentally disabled or otherwise handicapped... the list can go on and on.  But think about it a moment.  Who needs a cheerful greeting more?  And we are  all (depending on your beliefs) God's creatures and fellow human beings.

This very much includes those who disagree with us or even obviously snub us.  Try it with everyone you pass (see notes and words of caution below).  Make eye contact when you do it.  The world will be a better place.  You'll be happier too.

This was brought home to me a few years ago.  I woke at 7 AM (early for me) one Sunday morning on Mother's Day.  I had lost my oldest daughter in a traffic accident just a few years before.  My other daughter was overseas in the Navy and my only son a continent away.  My husband was working until noon.  I'm not one to sit around feeling sorry for myself, so I decided to make a tour of our shopping strip a block away. 

Strolling along, I had cafe con leche (expresso coffee, sweetened and foamy with milk) and pan con mantequilla (Cuban bread, split, buttered and flattened in a hot press).  At another place I had a chewy fritura de bacalao (dried codfish fritter).  I then had a freshly squeezed orange juice at a juice bar.  Next I  enjoyed a pastel de guayaba con queso crema (a sort of cream cheese and guava paste-filled pastry) from the bakery.   Finally I played a few games of billiards at the local pool hall while sipping a beer, bought for me by my opponent who I was beating badly.

You're probably saying this was a heck of breakfast and I must have had indigestion big time.  No, it took quite a while to eat all this, giving my tummy time to deal with it little by little. 

I don't know if all the scruffy characters stay up all night, plus I expect the homeless who sleep in odd corners were up before someone could discover their nest, and I suppose a lot of elderly prefer to walk in the morning before the heat and sun are intense.  But I was stopped every few feet for about three hours straight and wished a Happy Mother's Day by a huge collection of people, many of whom the average person wouldn't have spoken with at any time, but who I had been greeting cheerfully for years.  I had a few hugs and chaste kisses on the cheek (and a few incredulous looks from well dressed strangers passing by), a lot of handshakes and back pats, a few courtly bows, and came home in time to fix lunch for hubby, cheered up and considerably well wished.  

Give and ye shall receive!


Notes (3):

(Note of  caution:  Ladies and girls:  Shammai lived in a radically different time.  When not accompanied by a man, and passing males who are intent on making an unwanted pass, insolently looking you up and down, are saying things that make you uncomfortable or making with wolf whistles, DO NOT follow this advice.  It just encourages more of the same rudeness, or worse.  Do not act afraid or uncomfortable either.  Put a stern, strong, unafraid look on your face, stand up straight and stare right ahead.  Walk with confidence.   You'll rarely have a problem.)  

(Note to men and boys:  Aw, come on.....  Don't make the ladies uncomfortable.  You know you're only doing it to impress your buddies.  Waste of time.  Keep your eyes above neck level and a sincere smile on your face.  Much more useful and productive.  You can look all you want after she passes by!)

(Note to people in crowded places:  Etiquette, for very good reasons, excuses you from making eye contact and greeting strangers when in a crowded street, in a large gathering, riding elevators and so on. It's psychologically and practically not usually a good idea.  But you already knew that, right?   You're excused.)

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